Wars in Libya and Yemen: The generalisation of capitalist decomposition

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Whatever their specifics, wars and instability continue to rage across the Middle East firmly in the context of capitalist decomposition, of barbarism, chaos and “everyman for himself”. In the face of the weakening of the USA, which nonetheless still retains considerable forces in the region, centrifugal, unpredictable tendencies dominate to the extent that the butcher Assad and his broken, bloody regime is now being welcomed back, via Saudi Arabia and Jordan, into the regional fold, receiving emissaries from old enemies near and far.

This regional “fold”, such as it exists, is in fact a nest of the most treacherous vipers goaded or abandoned by wider forces, engaged in open military confrontations, sub-rivalries, increasing tensions of each against all. It involves the proliferation of warlordism and the increasing instability of alliances. Most of all, it contains no possible perspective for any sort of peace; only that of more warfare and instability throughout the whole Middle East. Similarly, there have been regional moves, particularly after the USA left the Kurds and then the Saudis in the lurch, to involve Iran in talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE; two allies, incidentally, whose forces are fighting each other in southern Yemen. While a five-sided war, typical of decomposition, continues to rumble on in Eastern Syria, Hezbollah has strengthened its (and Assad’s) position in the country and opened possibilities for greater Syrian involvement in Lebanon – its old stamping ground. There are possible consequences here for Israel and its smouldering and bitter war with Hamas, which could turn into a much more serious situation given wider developments. Afghanistan, and the particular barbarity of the Taliban (and their rival butchers in Islamic State) has rightly been the focus of the global decline of US imperialism and its corresponding pivot to the east,[1] but below we want to concentrate on two geographical areas of the Middle East, Libya and Yemen, that, while they both express their own barbaric specifics, are entirely enmeshed in the fabric of decomposing capitalism.

Libya: irrational rivalries and hypocrisy over refugees

Libya is a striking example of capitalism’s shameless attitude to the question of refugees and human trafficking: the commodification of misery imposed by nationalism and imperialism are taken to new depths of inhuman horror in and around this North African country. The wars undertaken by the west in the Middle East in 1990 and early 2000 gave rise to an enormous number of displaced people with some displaced many times; what can you do in the midst of war between rival, threatening forces other than grab what you can and flee? Many of these refugees were, through their individual terrifying odysseys, trying to find their way through Libya which itself, in 2011, was visited by the "humanitarian" war of London, Paris and Washington (the latter "leading from behind") against the ruling Gaddafi faction that they had previously armed and supported as a regional policeman.

On the back of some extremely courageous but essentially directionless social revolts against the bloody Gaddafi regime, uprisings which had also affected many Arab countries including Yemen, Libya was to receive its share of capitalist barbarity meted out by the major powers and add its own particularly repulsive signature: "This unfortunate Libya, which the Franco-British war of 2011 has transformed into a paradise for the terrorists of Daesh and al-Qaida, has today inherited a civil war. The trafficking of arms, drugs and migrants proliferates and it rarely comes into conflict with the jihadists. That is to be expected; they are often business partners..."[2] The toxic legacy of this war is very much with us today as rival Russian and Turkish interests vie for power behind their various armed cliques. While there is talk about the coming elections in December, the various powers involved in the conflict cannot, or rather do not want to, deliver a permanent cease-fire or the demobilisation of their armed groups. Alongside Russia stands Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, with France, Qatar and Italy alongside Turkey. This is no bloc confrontation but rather another free-for-all, involving a bewildering series of powers and factions, some of whom are no doubt motivated by an interest in their share of Libya's "black gold". But there are also profits to be made from the abundant human commodity of displaced peoples.

The role of Russia and Turkey

Regarding the local mafias and warlords, many of whom were built up in the 1990's when Libya was an important transit zone for the drug business, Russia backs General Khalifa Haftar, the boss of the Libyan National Army (LNA) based in the east of the country, while Turkey supports the "internationally recognised government", the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. But the biggest powers directly involved are also providing their own forces on the ground with hundreds, if not thousands of Russian "Wagner Troops" who were active in Ukraine; this is a "private, military company" in the same way that Blackwater (now “Academi”) was to the US in Iraq, and is also deployed in Syria, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique and several other African countries. For its part, by last October, Turkey had sent nearly 20,000 Syrian fighters, including some children, which it is still refusing to demobilise. Between them, these imperialist vultures have laid out their "legitimate" claims to the body of Libya. Russia wants payment for the arms it provided to the Gaddafi regime in the past; and Turkey, which is getting more and more out of its depth here as elsewhere, wants the $25 billion worth of contracts that it made with Libya before the 2011 war. NATO is absent here as a force and its wants nothing to do with Turkey's confrontation with Russia. But France, through its secret services, has provided the Russian-backed Haftar army with missiles while the British, again through their secret services, have sent British-based Islamist Libyan fighters (in the shape of the Islamic Fighting Group, which has strong links to Al Qaida) to do their dirty work in the country (also employed by the British state to work in Afghanistan and Syria). Capitalist reconstruction of states after such wars as Libya in 2011 is now a thing of the past and the country, like many imperialist battlefields recently, will remain just that. Within capitalist decomposition states involved in wars, particularly the weaker ones, have little chance of any real recovery[3] and remain running imperialist sores ready to flare up again in the general advance of militarist barbarism which again brings more waves of displaced and refugees[4].

Refugees: oppression and slavery

No-one knows exactly how many refugee detention camps there are in Libya or how many people they contain, but the answer must be dozens, containing tens and maybe hundreds of thousands. The inmates, men, women and children, face killings and torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labour and an endless misery. None of this is secret[5]. Amnesty International appeals to the European Union to "reconsider its co-operation with the Libyan authorities" but the EU only has the intention of supporting further the activities of these so-called "authorities". Last September's new EU "Migration Pact" was more of an expression of a free-for-all in the EU, a short-term attempt to maintain their individual borders and with no allowance made for the Covid-19 pandemic let alone the ongoing misery of the refugees. The official refugee prisons in Libya like everywhere else are bad enough but many are unofficial, run by militias where hundreds of refugees “disappear” at a time. While hypocritically criticising the conditions of China's "re-education" camps of the Muslim Uighurs, the EU is contributing to the maintenance of what can accurately be described as its own death camps closer to home.

On November 14, 2017, CNN reported the existence of a slave market in Libya where human beings were brought and sold like cattle. EU-funded armed Libyan coastguard boats plough into the ramshackle crafts of refugees (unless they are rich enough to book "first class") and shoot at others, while an unknown number are consigned to a watery grave trying to cross the Mediterranean. The barbarity of this situation is the responsibility of the major powers including the open complicity of the "enlightened" countries of the European Union. But these camps, the refugees, the walls, the barbed-wire and the strengthening of a border against the "others" is not a specific Libyan problem but a growing problem of capitalism’s advancing decay. Like Yemen, there are plenty of specifics to the Libyan nightmare but they both share one of the major characteristics of capitalist decomposition: an irrational flight into chaotic and permanent warfare.

Yemen: bombs, famine, disease

The war in Yemen is a war of misery, atrocities and constant "humanitarian" appeals. It seems to have been going on forever, an endless war, which in a sense it is. Yemen became a unified country in 1990 with the fusion of the Yemen Arab Republic and South Yemen. This was right after the dramatic opening of capitalism's descent into its phase of decomposition and it bears all the scars of it. Like the countries formed earlier in the twentieth century by way of "national liberation", these are not at all the viable, unified national entities that capitalism created in its ascendant phase which lasted up until the First World War. On the basis of European-imposed colonial divisions (mostly British, who only left Yemen in 1967), Yemen was "born" into the new era of imperialist free-for-all that aggravated long-standing territorial, "ethnic" and religious differences and created a few more besides.

Britain, Saudi, Iran and other powers fuel the slaughter

Rebel uprisings, along with social uprisings, began in 2004 in Yemen and became more widespread in 2010 and then again in 2014. More than just providing weaponry, British forces have been actively supporting Saudi Arabia since the first bombs fell on the rebels in 2015. The Houthi "rebels", despite their quite extreme and intolerant branch of Zaidi Shia, were nevertheless supported by many poor Sunnis who saw their bid for power as a way out of the hell that they were living in, and were themselves part of a wider spread of social discontent across the Arab world. The Houthis were initially separate from Iran but the latter, along with Hezbollah, has got more involved with them as the major powers have piled into and pounded the country in order to support what's laughably called "the government" or, as the BBC puts it, "the internationally-recognised government". The latter is supposed to be involved in a "stalemate" according to the BBC. In reality this is a further descent into capitalist barbarity. The Houthis control - if that's the right word - 70% of the north of the country including the capital Sana'a. The Yemeni government actively backed by Saudi Arabia, the US, Britain and others, control some areas to the south of the country where there is also the separatist Southern Transitional Council backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE): Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two apparent allies in the war against the Houthis, are clashing with each other over the control of the strategically valuable Bab el-Mandeb strait (also sought by the Houthis) overlooking the Red Sea between south Yemen and Djibouti. Apart from other southern separatist factions that agree neither with Saudi nor the UAE, there are also in Yemen active elements of the Muslim Brotherhood (backed by Qatar), the local franchise of al-Qaida - al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) - along with local and imported elements of Isis. There have been reports that the Saudi and coalition-backed Yemeni secret services, the PSO, have links with these terrorist organisations - and Houthi elements have also probably been "in touch". This mixture of destructive interests is entirely representative of imperialism in the phase of decomposition.

As well as famine and Covid-19, the latter another devastating factor in these war zones, cholera and diphtheria have made a come-back in Yemen where even mild cases of diarrhoea result in the deaths of children and the weak. Three-quarters of the population rely on aid and at least 3 million people have been displaced. The Houthi forces have been emboldened by how easy it is to direct fire at targets on Saudi soil[6] and, while the latter under some US pressure are looking for a way out of the war, the "rebel" forces seem intent on pursuing it into the gas and oil-rich Marib region of central Yemen[7], further deepening the war and its consequences.

The examples of Libya and Yemen above demonstrate how the unstoppable barbaric and self-destructive tendencies of capitalism are exacerbated at all levels in its stage of decomposition. The question of war and militarism will become central for the working class as more and more sacrifices are demanded from it in order to feed capitalism’s war economy. The development of imperialism and militarism today is one more major factor in the dangerous impasse to which the present system is driving the whole of humanity.


Boxer. 29.9.2021


[4]https://www.unhcr.org/5ee200e37.pdf According to the UN, forcibly displaced persons stand today at 80 million, including nearly 30 million refugees while in 2010 the corresponding figures were 43 million including 15.4 million refugees.

[6] On September 14, 2019, there was a massive attack on the Saudi Aramco facilities with the Kuirais oil field and Abqaiq refinery, one of the largest in the world, hit by a number of, possibly, Cruise missiles. The extent of the damage is still unreported but it was significant (similar mystery still surrounds the attacks on NATO bases in Turkey after the 2016 coup attempt). The attack was claimed by the Houthis in what was likely at least to be a joint operation with Iran. The Saudis expected a reaction from the US but came there none from the Trump administration, showing a continuity of foreign policy in relation to Saudi Arabia with the policies of Obama and through to Biden today.

[7] There’s been a recent upsurge in fighting here: https://news.yahoo.com/yemeni-officials-clashes-over-key-122306956.html